‘Moderate Mitt’: Neocon Trojan Horse

Exclusive: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did all he could in Monday’s debate to calm voters’ fears that he would revert to George W. Bush’s neocon foreign policy. But there was one telling slip-up when Romney signaled that his heart remains with the neocon plan to remake the Middle East, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Mitt Romney’s peculiar sense of geography thinking Iran was some landlocked country that needed Syria as a “route to the sea” may have raised some eyebrows over Romney’s lack of basic knowledge, but another part of the same answer, referring to the civil war in Syria as “an opportunity,” should have raised more alarm.

Though Romney’s goal in Monday’s foreign policy debate was to downplay his warlike neoconservative stands, his reference to the Syrian chaos as “an opportunity” suggests that his more moderate rhetoric is just another ploy to deceive voters and win the election, not a real abandonment of neocon strategies.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney striding onto the debate stage. (Photo credit: mittromney.com)

In that sense, the new “moderate Mitt” is less a sign of a neocon retreat from his earlier bellicosity than a Trojan Horse to be wheeled onto the White House grounds on Jan. 20, 2013, so the neocons can pour forth from its hollowed-out belly and regain full control of U.S. foreign policy.

So, the neocons don’t really mind that Romney has suddenly abandoned many of their cherished positions, such as extending the Afghan War beyond 2014 and returning U.S. troops to Iraq. The neocons understand the political need for Romney to calm independent voters who fear that he may be another George W. Bush.

In Monday’s debate, Romney said, “Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a, a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us.”

The “route to the sea” comment with its faint echo of a distant time in geopolitics represented proof that Romney lacks even a rudimentary knowledge of world geography, since much of Iran’s southern territory fronts on the Persian Gulf and Iran could only reach Syria by transiting Iraq. Syria and Iran have no common border.

But more significantly, Romney was revealing the crucial connection between the neocon desire for “regime change” in Syria and the neocon determination to strangle Israel’s close-in enemies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Romney’s demand for a new Syrian government of “responsible people” further suggests that the Republican presidential nominee shares the core neocon fantasy that the United States can simply remove one unsavory Middle East dictator and install a pro-Western, Israel-friendly leader who will then shut off aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

That was the central fallacy in the Iraq War, the notion that United States with its unparalleled military might could shift the Mideast’s political dynamics to Israel’s advantage through coercive “regime change.” In Iraq, the U.S. military eliminated Saddam Hussein but then saw a new Iraqi government ally itself with Iran.

The new Iraq may be less of a military threat, but it has not reached out and embraced Israel as some neocons had hoped. Indeed, by removing Hussein’s Sunni-controlled regime and ending up with a Shiite-dominated one Bush’s Iraq War essentially eliminated a major bulwark against the regional influence of Iran’s Shiite regime.

Dream Still Alive

Yet, despite the bloody and costly catastrophe in Iraq, the heart of the neocon dream is still beating and Romney’s comment indicates that he shares its illusions. Dating back at least to the mid-1990s, the neocon idea has been to use violent or coercive “regime change” in Muslim countries to secure Israel’s security.

The neocons’ first target may have been Iraq, but that was never the endgame. The strategy was to make Iraq into a military base for then removing the governments of Iran and Syria. Back in the heady days of 2002-2003, a neocon joke posed the question of what to do after ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq whether to next go east to Iran or west to Syria. The punch-line was: “Real men go to Tehran.”

According to the neocon grand plan, once pro-Israeli governments were established in Iran, Iraq and Syria, Israel’s hostile neighbors, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, would lose their benefactors and shrivel up, without money or weapons. Then, Israel could dictate its terms for peace and security.

This neocon strategy emerged after the lopsided U.S. victory in Kuwait, in which President George H.W. Bush demonstrated the leaps-and-bounds advantage of the high-tech U.S. military over the Iraqi army whose soldiers were literally blown to bits by U.S. missiles and “smart bombs” while American casualties were kept to a minimum.

After that 1991 victory, it became conventional wisdom in Washington that no army on earth could withstand the sophisticated killing power of the U.S. military. That belief combined with frustration over Israel’s stalemated conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah led American neocons to begin thinking about a new approach, “regime change” across the Middle East.

The early outlines of this aggressive concept for remaking the Middle East emerged in 1996 when a group of neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Israel’s Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during his campaign for prime minister.

The neocon strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” advanced the idea that only regime change in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from the diplomatic standoffs that had followed inconclusive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Under the “clean break,” Israel would no longer seek peace through mutual understanding and compromise, but rather through confrontation, including the violent removal of leaders such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who were supportive of Israel’s close-in enemies.

The plan called Hussein’s ouster “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right,” but also one that would destabilize the Assad dynasty in Syria and thus topple the power dominoes into Lebanon, where Hezbollah might soon find itself without its key Syrian ally. Iran also could find itself in the cross-hairs of “regime change.”

But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be defeated even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.

In 1998, the U.S. neocon brain trust pushed the “clean break” plan another step forward with the creation of the Project for the New American Century, which urged President Bill Clinton to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

However, Clinton would only go so far, maintaining a harsh embargo on Iraq and enforcing a “no-fly zone” which involved U.S. aircraft conducting periodic bombing raids. Still, with Clinton or his heir apparent, Al Gore, in the White House, a full-scale invasion of Iraq appeared out of the question.

An Opening

The first key political obstacle was removed when the neocons helped engineer George W. Bush’s ascension to the presidency in Election 2000. However, the path was not fully cleared until al-Qaeda terrorists attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, leaving behind a political climate across America for war and revenge.

Of course, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 had other motives besides Israeli security from Bush’s personal animus toward Saddam Hussein to controlling Iraq’s oil resources but a principal goal of the neocons was the projection of American power deep into the Muslim world, to strike at enemy states beyond Israel’s military reach.

In those days of imperial hubris, the capabilities of the U.S. military were viewed as strategic game-changers. However, the Iraqi resistance to the U.S. conquest, relying on low-tech weapons such as “improvised explosive devices,” dashed the neocon dream at least in the short run. The “real men” had to postpone their trips to Tehran and Damascus.

But the dream hasn’t died. It just had to wait out four years of Barack Obama. In Campaign 2012, the neocons have returned to surround Mitt Romney, who like George W. Bush a decade ago has only a vague understanding of the world and is more than happy to cede the direction of U.S. foreign policy to the smart, confident and well-connected neocons.

The neocons also understand the need to manipulate the American people. In the 1980s, when I was covering Ronald Reagan’s Central American policies, I dealt with the neocons often and came to view them as expert manipulators whose view of democracy was that it was okay to trick the common folk into doing what was deemed necessary.

So, the neocons learned to exaggerate dangers and exploit fears. They tested their skills out in Central America with warnings about how peasant rebellions against corrupt oligarchs were part of some grand Soviet scheme to conquer the United States through the soft underbelly of Texas.

When the neocons returned to power under George W. Bush, they applied the same techniques in hyping the threat from Iraq. They pushed baseless claims about Saddam Hussein sharing non-existent weapons of mass destruction with al-Qaeda, all the better to scare the American people.

Painful Reversals

The neocons faced some painful reversals when the Iraq War foundered from late 2003 through 2006, but they salvaged some status in 2007 by pushing the fiction of the “successful surge,” which supposedly turned impending defeat into victory, although the truth was that the “surge” only delayed the inevitable failure of the U.S. enterprise.

After Bush’s departure in 2009 and the arrival of Obama, the neocons retreated, too, to Washington think tanks and the editorial pages of national news outlets. However, they continued to influence the perception of events in the Middle East, shifting the blame for the Iraq defeat as much as possible onto Obama.

New developments in the region also created what the neocons viewed as new openings. For instance, the Arab Spring of 2011 led to civil unrest in Syria where the Assad dynasty based in non-Sunni religious sects was challenged by a Sunni-led insurgency which included some democratic reformers as well as some radical jihadists.

Meanwhile, in Iran, international resistance to its nuclear program prompted harsh economic sanctions which have undermined the Islamic rule of the Shiite mullahs. Though President Obama views the sanctions as leverage to compel Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program, some neocons are already salivating over how to hijack the sanctions on behalf of “regime change.”

At this pivotal moment, what the neocons need desperately is to maneuver their way back into the White House behind Mitt Romney’s election. And, if that requires Romney to suddenly soften his hard-line neocon rhetoric for the next two weeks, that is a small price to pay.

Which brings us back to Monday’s foreign policy debate in which Romney abandoned what had been his supposedly principled stands, such as denouncing Obama’s schedule to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Though Romney had called that a major mistake telling the Taliban when the Americans were departing he embraced the same timetable. The voters could breathe a sigh of relief over “Moderate Mitt.”

However, in Romney’s comment about Syria, he showed his real intent, the neocon desire to exploit the conflict in Syria to replace Bashar al-Assad with a new leader who would accommodate Israel and shut down assistance going to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It was in that context that Romney termed the Syrian violence, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, an “opportunity.”

But the real opportunity for the neocons would come if the American voters, satisfied that Romney no longer appears to be the crazy war hawk of the Republican primaries, elect him on Nov. 6 and then celebrate his arrival next Jan. 20 by pushing a crude wooden horse through the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

12 comments for “‘Moderate Mitt’: Neocon Trojan Horse

  1. db
    October 26, 2012 at 06:44

    Herr rehmat, Frau Thomas, Frau or Fraulein rosemary.

    Let’s make sure we get the genders straight. ’cause the Party of “Kinder, Kirche, Kuechen” (children, Church, cooking) as the proper place for women; doesn’t go for this “Women’s Lib” crap.

  2. gregorylkruse
    October 25, 2012 at 17:13

    Parry’s analysis seems to present the security of Israel as the only concern of the neocon’s and the formulators of the New American Century, saying that Hussein was targeted for his support of Israel’s “close in” enemies. I don’t dispute that, but I think the most pressing reason to dominate the region and Iraq in particular, was the desire of the oil corporations to get control of the the oceans of oil there without having to give any money to the Iraqi people. The American and NATO military is the various corporations’ “little friend”.

  3. Borat
    October 25, 2012 at 13:43

    Oh no, Gusshitppe has the same antisemitic illness as rehmatshit. poor baby is insulted….

  4. Gusseppe
    October 25, 2012 at 11:12

    Everybody is wrong except for jew borASS.

    • db
      October 26, 2012 at 06:50


      I didn’t realize that Antisemitism ran so deeply in Italy.

      On the other hand Jerome Horowitz (Curly Howard) made a career out of mocking Il Duce. I always thought “Half-Pint Hitler” was the best appellation.

  5. rosemerry
    October 24, 2012 at 15:18

    “Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel.” The threats all come from Israel; as does the destructive violence. Over 20000 invasions of Lebanese airspace have taken place since 2006; one hezbollah plane over Israel.

    “in Iran, international resistance to its nuclear program prompted harsh economic sanctions” is not really the case. The USA and Israel have pushed the puppets in Europe, and bribed or threatened other countries eg India. Most of the world does NOT support the fear of the “international community” about the non-existent Iranian nukes. the cruel sanctions have no justification.

  6. GENE
    October 24, 2012 at 13:31


  7. Paul Karsh
    October 24, 2012 at 12:18

    Full of it Mitt – Trojan Horse? No shit, Sherlock!

  8. Robert Locke
    October 24, 2012 at 11:04

    Yes, Romney debated as though he is Obama’s running mate, adopting Obama’s policies and adapting himself chameleonlike, sweating and smirking at the same time, to his changing hide.

    Hide in two senses, the other sense being the hiding away of his real motives in order to try to convince moderates that he is not the bully and warmonger we who have watched longer than these three debates know him to be. Robert Parry, your Trojan Horse metaphor is right on. Romney will be the same pushover for neo-con horrors that the wooden-headed puppet George W. Bush was.

    V.P. Ryan as V. P. Cheney? That is also pretty apt. If a voter could still possibly be on the fence about those two terror-mongers who do not even know basic Middle East geography, I hope that voter WILL remember the Trojan Horse and the fall of a trusting populace.

    “We are four years closer to a nuclear Iran,” Romney asserts, but what does that even mean? More of his rhetoric to try to portray Obama as weak. A year, unlike a Light Year, is not a measure of distance. The measure of how close Iran is to becoming nuclear resides in how carefully the world contains Iran, and Obama has been far more vigilant than the previous administration in getting the world powers to contain Iran and prevent any nuclear ambitions.

    If Romney is elected, expect him to invade Syria and Iran, just as Dick Cheney convinced us to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • Robert
      October 24, 2012 at 12:40

      yes sir…Paul Ryan was foisted upon the ticket by the Kochs…along the same lines of cheney as the Power behind the throne…they know ryan will tow the line, and Mitt will be as compliant as a pile of dung…the whole republican party is all about hiding, mis-direction, lying, and smearing to get elected then the real agenda appears…

  9. borat
    October 24, 2012 at 10:22

    rehmatshit has romnesia

  10. BARBBF
    October 24, 2012 at 10:14

    Whatever Romney has done or will do..he is NOT complicit in the deaths of more Africans than any U. S. President in recent history:

    The Butchering of Gaddafi Is America’s Crime

    by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

    “Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appeared like ghoulish despots at a Roman Coliseum, reveling in their Libyan gladiators’ butchery.”

    Last week the whole world saw, and every decent soul recoiled, at the true face of NATO’s answer to the Arab Spring. An elderly, helpless prisoner struggled to maintain his dignity in a screaming swirl of savages, one of whom thrusts a knife [4] up his rectum. These are Europe and America’s jihadis in the flesh. In a few minutes of joyously recorded bestiality, the rabid pack undid every carefully packaged image of NATO’s “humanitarian” project in North Africa – a horror and revelation indelibly imprinted on the global consciousness by the brutes’ own cell phones.

    Nearly eight months of incessant bombing by the air forces of nations that account for 70 percent of the world’s weapons spending, all culminating in the gang-bang slaughter of Moammar Gaddafi, his son Mutassim and his military chief of staff, outside Sirte. The NATO-armed bands then displayed the battered corpses for days in Misurata – the city that had earlier made good on its vow to “purge Black skin” through the massacre and dispersal of 30,000 darker residents of nearby Tawurgha – before disposing of the bodies in an unknown location.

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